The “Native Business Top 50 Entrepreneurs” list serves to elevate awareness of the innovation, professionalism, competence and tenacity demonstrated by Native entrepreneurs across Indian Country. Native Business is rolling out profiles of these 50 Native entrepreneurs online, in no particular hierarchy, to document and memorialize their innovation and self-determination. The inaugural class of the Native Business Top 50 Entrepreneurs recognizes leaders across 13 business sectors, demonstrating the diversity of industries where Natives are making an impact. Among the entrepreneurs recognized in our Retail sector is Louie Gong.
The scale of Eighth Generation’s success is totally unprecedented for a Native-owned business in the arts space. Among the fastest growing Native-owned companies in North America, Eighth Generation represents what founder Louie Gong refers to as “a radical update to the American dream.”
“Our success has come while subtly giving the middle finger to large brands with a tradition of selling fake Native art, and an outdated gallery system that has not made much of a difference for Native artists,” Gong said.
But Gong (Nooksack) isn’t wasting time being outraged. He’s creating avenues for the self-determination of fellow Native arts entrepreneurs.
A former nonprofit president and educator, Gong has never lost sight of Eighth Generation’s purpose. Just a decade ago, he was illustrating contemporary Coast Salish art on Vans in his living room. While the Tribal-inked shoes became the impetus for Eighth Generation, that phase of the company’s development only reflects its formative years.
In 2015, Eighth Generation became the first Native-owned company to produce high-end wool blankets featuring stunning Tribal designs. Business has more than doubled each year, and Gong anticipates even bigger strides going forward.
“Even though we’re doing business of much greater scale, our values haven’t changed,” Gong emphasized.
Since Gong launched Eighth Generation in 2008, the company has remained committed to community engagement and collaboration. “Eighth Generation sets the gold standard for how businesses should align with cultural artists,” Gong said.
Unlike traditional gallery system, Eighth Generation gives Native artists direct access to buyers. “I believe that’s the true pathway to sustainability,” Gong noted.
Eighth Generation also gives artists leverage to produce in mass, which is critical to meet consumer demand before a larger company swoops in and replicates ideas and aesthetics. “The key is being able to transition from producing one-off pieces to producing art in quantity,” Gong said.
In addition to e-commerce, Gong’s rapidly growing empire showcases its products from a storefront with prime real estate: Seattle’s Pike Place Market.